Life of a young woman leader juggling mothering two lovely toddlers

By Angèle Kolouchè BIAO Epse AKOKPONHOUE, YWCA of Benin

Gone are the days I could wake up by myself after a good sleep or when I could sleep as long as I wished, when I feel like and how often I wanted.

Every morning, I am pushed out of bed by either the cry of Faith, my nineteen-month-old daughter who stills demands and needs attention from me or that of my three-months-old son Maxwell. This is to either prepare a milk beverage for the first or breastfeed the latter.

Otherwise, my day starts then like that and I need to get organised, manage and watch time like someone awaiting his death sentence.

I start by taking my bath first otherwise I get stuck by house chores and delay my bath, and then I heat water to bathe Maxwell and Faith. I simultaneously prepare breakfast for the family.

Managing time when I have to go somewhere early in the morning becomes difficult and really exhausting. I make sure I do the laundry before leaving the house because I often can’t predict the time I will come back home. Usually I struggle with time to the extent of forgetting to have breakfast. When leaving the house, I put the little one on my back and fasten him safely enough, sit on my motorbike and put Faith in front of me, wear my helmet and I am gone ridding. I either leave them with my mother or when it is necessary to go with them I have to keep Faith awake by singing with her during the trip. Sometimes it works, sometimes I just have to manage her on the motorbike so she does not fall or knock her against the board of the motorcycle.

When I don’t go anywhere, I hardly have time to take even a little rest. I have to put up with my daughter’s needs, with her breaking things and turning down the bedroom. I always have to keep an eye on her because she attempts dangerous things like plugging a wire, play with the light switch repeatedly, opening the tap and leaving it, opening any bottle whether drugs, oil, soap, alcoholic drinks etc.

After doing all this, at the end of the day I get so tired that all I need is to go to bed when they allow me to of course. Often I am only able to do certain things when they are both asleep otherwise I will have to be interrupted several times. That is why I can really rest at normal hours.

This life of mine is not easy at present but I console myself with the joy they give me and I am aware there is a time for everything.

One other thing too is that, it would have been definitely better if I had planned childbirth better. I was worried by the rumors of my elders and predecessors in motherhood on family planning, that before I realised I had two babies within less than two years. That is why I adopted a family planning method right on the delivery bed. I did not inform my husband before taking this decision and was worried about that in the beginning, but I realised it was my life and I have a career to pursue and couldn’t allow myself to fall in another trap again.  After all, he took the news positively, it was for the better of our sexual life, even though he would have wished to be informed and persuaded first. Anyway I have no regrets.

So far, so good.

Qui ne risque rien, n’a rien.

 

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Holding Governments Accountable

By Antoinette Yah Sendolo, YWCA of Liberia.

It is indeed a great opportunity to be a part of the 24th Gender Is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) pre-summit consultative meeting on Gender Mainstreaming to discuss issues affecting women and Girls in Agriculture, Food Security and Agribusiness and especially meeting the Chairperson of the African Union Commission HE Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Many thanks to the World YWCA foryah providing this exceptional opportunity to young women of Africa to share their experiences and also to the YWCA of Liberia for selecting me to form part of this unique experience and for its diligent efforts in ensuring that the capacities of young women and girls in post-war Liberia are built.

It has been a wonderful time here in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea joining other young women and girls from across Africa to flag out issues affecting women and girls in Agriculture, Food Security and Agribusiness. The issue of women and girls involvement in agriculture is essential in enhancing food security in Africa because statistic shows that women contribute a higher percentage in producing crops/ Staple food together with their children (especially girls).

With access to land and violence against women being highlighted as some of the major challenges faced by women, it is important to take the appropriate steps now to ensure that these issues are addressed with urgency in order to have food security in Africa. Most African countries are signatory to documents forbidding violence against women and girls in Africa. Yet despite those international instruments, women and girls throughout the continent faced a high rate of violence on a daily basis and perpetrators go with impunity while young women and girls who are the survivors live with the trauma for the rest of their lives.

It is now time that governments are held accountable for the implementation of those international documents that protect the rights of women and girls. In order to have food security in Africa, women and girls must be protected because they constitute over 50% of the population and their contribution to agriculture can be rated at almost 80%. Women and girls rights are fundamental human rights therefore; they must be respected without any form of discriminations.

For more information:

23rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU)

Beijing+ who? And 2015 what?

By Kgothatso Mokoena, YWCA of South Africa.

My engagement with the African Union Summit

2014 has been a hectic time, for development activists, with all current development frameworks ending in 2015, noting the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and celebrating 20 years of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. Similarly the international community now is focused on UN mechanisms, Post 2015 development framework and while the African Union (AU) is encouraging member states to align with Agenda 2063 aspirations.

Kgothatso Mokoena

Kgothatso Mokoena

The world is now at the cusp of progress, accountability and inclusion. The tapestry of development language is weaved with the language of human rights. But practice…is NOT! My observations at the African Union and the Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) consultation Forum has caused me to be concerned that although we have such good frameworks, our leaders are still hesitant to get their feet wet.

As individuals, communities and countries begin to understand what human rights means to them, it becomes vital to place women and girls at the very heart of all these processes. Twenty years ago at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), member states committed to support sexual and reproductive health rights of all women and girls. The result was a definitive programme of action that would compel countries, for the next two decades to focus on equality, empowerment of women, reproductive health, sustainable development and growth.

As I followed the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and Post 2015 Agenda negotiations, I am frustrated to see governments still arguing without logic that eradication of poverty and unemployment programmes are not constrained by negative reproductive health outcomes. I simply can not comprehend why any country would believe that a population, with a high level of teenage pregnancies and young women and girls who are forced to marry early and are unhealthy or neglected in terms of access to health facilitates would not be considered a major sustainable development issue.

Today, we no longer look at poverty as we did 20 years ago. It’s not just an income figure but a view that any circumstance which deprives one of health, education, and living conditions is poverty. That’s right; health is actually a condition that determines poverty!! In the African region, 3900 child brides live in this dire situation.

Group Photo

YWCA AU Delegation

The post 2015 development agenda must be based on human rights framework; it should commit to the gender equality goal as a standalone and must include clear commitments to young women and girls. This is a non-negotiable for us and billions of women around the world. Indeed women’s agency, voice and leadership are crucial and core to meeting the aspirations of development as stated in the AU Agenda 2063.

In the words of my good friend and youth advocate Ramya Kudekallu, “We want sexual and reproductive health rights to be considered as life itself, because the origin of all human life is (shockingly) sex. The point countless community and health workers, researchers, doctors, activists and civil society organisations are trying to get at is that every aspect of sexual health and well being is deeply connected with a nations’ well being. Sexual and reproductive health rights is allowing people, man or woman, young or old, or any race or any creed to better engage in decisions concerning their bodies, gender and relationships.”

So Beijing+ who? Beijing+20, you! MGD…who? Post 2015 Agenda…..about you! Engage now!

Promoting the Rights of the Child

By Khalea Callender, World YWCA Programme Associate.

The practice of child, early and forced marriage is widespread and occurs in all regions of the world. The World YWCA recognising that it constitutes a violation, abuse or impairment of human rights, it prevents individuals from living their lives free from all forms of violence and it has adverse consequences on the enjoyment of human rights, such as the right to education, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health rights.

According to an UNFPA report, globally, an estimated 1 in 3 young women aged 20 to 24 are married before the age of 18. If present trends continue, an estimated 142 million girls hvhwill be married by their 18th birth day by 2020. Child marriage is an unacceptable violation of the rights of children, particularly adolescent girls with long term negative consequences on their health and wellbeing. It denies these children their childhood, disrupting their access to education, limiting their ability to participate in economic and social spheres, and jeopardizing their health – including increasing the risk of dying from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. It renders girls and young women more vulnerable to intimate partner violence, including sexual violence and can increase the risk of HIV. Child marriage resulting from physical and/or emotional force is a form of violence itself.

Child, early and forced marriages is not limited to Africa and Asia as many may believe. In the Caribbean and a lot of other parts in the world, this human right violation, is associated much with teenage pregnancy. “The State of World Population 2013,” produced by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), notes that out of the 7.3 million births, 2 million are to girls who are 14 or younger, many of whom suffer “grave long-term health and social consequences from pregnancy.” The reality is that teenage pregnancy is most often not the result of a deliberate choice but rather the absence of choices, and of circumstances beyond a girl’s control. It is a consequence of little or no access to school, employment, quality information and health care.

According to UNFPA the rates of teenage pregnancy in the Caribbean were among the highest in the world, with 20 per cent of all females in the region becoming mothers before their 20th birthday, many of them before they are 15 years old. In Jamaica, 45 per cent of all women who are between 15 to 24 years old had their first pregnancy by age 19. Similar statistics are recorded in Belize, Guyana, the Dominican Republic and St. Vincent. With an estimated one-third of Caribbean teenage girls being married before their 18th birthday, many are compelled to do so by unexpected/unplanned pregnancies.

Trinidad and Tobago, with just a population size of about 1.3 million, 2,500 teenage pregnancies is reported annually noting that these are only the figures reported to their Student Support Services, many are still unrecorded. Dr. Tim Gopeesingh, the Minister of Education, speaking in the Senate, said that most teenagers had become pregnant for fathers who were between the ages of 25-40 and that some of the mothers were below the ages of 12. The Education Minister told legislators that research by the Faculty of Medical Science of the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago (UWI) showed that by age 19, more than 1,000 young women already had four children. The government of Trinidad and Tobago has though taken further steps to protect the rights of children by establishing a child protection task force. This committee recently submitted a report to the government who is reviewing the recommendation put forward.

The conservative cultures of many parents in the Caribbean region, brings pressure to bear on teenage parents. The YWCA of Trinidad and Tobago (YWCATT), has identified that in order to tackle teenage pregnancy, one must adopt a holistic approach, which does not only dwell on changing girls’ behaviour but seeks to change attitudes in society so girls are encouraged to stay in school, child marriage is banned, girls have access to sexual and reproductive health including contraception, and young mothers have better support systems. The YWCATT has developed programmed to empower young women to increase their decision making abilities. One such program is the “I am worth defending”. This programme was developed for girls between the ages of 12 to 16 years who live in displaced homes across Trinidad and Tobago, teaching them some basic self-defence techniques and while building self-esteem using a human rights based approach.

Child, early and force marriage can only be classified as a human rights violation, it affects the rights of girls and women. It entrenches gender inequalities, it undermines girls’ right to free and full consent to participate in decisions affecting them, to live free from all forms of stigma, coercion, discrimination, violence and exploitation including slavery and servitude. Furthermore, it undermines their rights to an education, health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights and the prospect of living prosperous and fulfilling lives and being able to fulfill their God given destiny.

We all are champions through intergenerational leadership!

By Yadanar Aung, YWCA of Myanmar.

Yadanar

Yadanar Aung

Asia and Pacific Leadership Training was held from 2nd-8th June, 2014 in Yangon Myanmar with the theme of “Intergenerational Approaches to Bold and Transformative Leadership”. There were 30 participants: presidents, general secretaries, mentors, young women and young women leaders from Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri-Lanka, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Solomon Island.

The topics of the training are very interesting: personal leadership journey, monitoring and evaluation, advocacy, gender equality, sexual and reproductive health and rights and rights-based approach. Moreover, we learned about human rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights and sexually orientated Gender Identity through this amazing film called “Philomena”.

In addition, together with the participants from Myanmar as Country team, we work together for the monitoring and evaluation for the young women’s leadership training institute project and we discussed about the advocacy action plan for the violence against women, young women and girls. Young Women’s Dialogue is one of the programmes where partner organisations of YWCA of Myanmar attended. The country representatives from Burnet Institute, Help Age International and Women’s Organisation recognise, realise and embrace the skills and abilities of young women. Furthermore, they acknowledge the importance of  meaningful of young women as essential.

After joining training, there are many questions in my head concerning my personal leadership journey, intergenerational approach, rights based approach, envisioning 2035 and advocacy etc. This training is totally a safe space for all to learn, share and express ourselves. As a young woman participant of this training, I feel the sense of intergenerational spirit. No matter what our positions at work, our age, our experiences, we work together as a team, we acknowledge each other, value each other, accept the diversity and find the solutions for  the problems with the solidarity spirit.

Group

Participants from the training

This whole week was a very productive week and it highlighted that “ we all are champions through intergenerational leadership!”

Inclusive youth participation and policy making

By Sarah Choji, YWCA of Nigeria

The world conference on youth was held in Sri Lanka May, 2014, meeting different young people from around the globe was an experience I looked forward to and the excitement of traveling to a continent that I have never been to (Asia) and meeting different people, though a long journey from home (Nigeria) it was worth it. Our coming together as young people to discuss and proffer solutions during parallel sessions that took place on issues that concerns young people was our duty and responsibility. Plenaries, breakout sessions and round table discussions started on Wednesday and everyone got down to business. I was interested in inclusive youth participation in policy making, SRHR and the religious society, which is translated into The Future Young Women Want: A global Call to action put together by YWCA young women and girls across Africa on transformations we want to see in our lifetime and our commitment to achieving it, an aspect of which is focused on access to quality education and how to make informed choices and safety for girls in school. Regional meetings were held for every region that where represented to discuss issues peculiar to their respective member country, and possible solutions on how to go about tackling these issues.

Sarah Choji

Sarah Choji

Inclusive youth participation and policy making at all levels is seen to be very minimal or not even in place in most countries globally, as a result we see an increase rate of unemployed young people, urban migration due to high poverty for those living in the rural areas, absence of youth with entrepreneurial skills, under inclusiveness of marginalised youth in economic participation, zero capacity building and comprehensive knowledge on media and how to harness it to our benefit. Young people should be seen as partners and stakeholders in every society because investing in young people through comprehensive education, policy making and also eliminating some kind of laws and legislation that stereotype or marginalise the young people from contributing to the society will be removed. Stereotypes like years of experience in a particular field before being granted employment. There should be a way to bridge the gap for the young people to enable them job opportunity in any field they desire without discrimination. In terms of policy making, we see different ways and perspective in which young people are being classed as irresponsible, party lovers, and inadequate managers of resources which make it difficult for young people to be included in policy making and governance. A call was also made to young people to learn to be responsible and to live up to expectation and work hard in their field of endeavor. Also bridging the gap on information on ICPD and post 2015 agenda among young people should be increased because there is very low understanding and knowledge of this concept (ICPD).

Youth ministries should be given some degree of freedom to operate, carry out youth based activities and look into issues that concern and affect the young people which can be tackled without waiting for approval from the government. Also in relation to this, countries that do not have youth ministries are encouraged to work with their government to establish one. In summary we advocated for creation of institutions in every country to grant young people the power to participate in decision making for instance creating specific ministries for youth e.g. sports, arts & culture and much more to be put in place with deliberate effort to having young people operate and run the ministry. Establishing check and balance mechanisms in order to secure accountability of government authorities on youth; for instance publishing quarterly, half-yearly, and yearly reports on activities related to youths. This is to ensure that young people are carried along and are in the picture of activities their ministries involved in. also ensure that all young people have access to technology ,the internet, access to free and right information and develop new visa systems that will promote mobility for young people e.g. shorten the visa application process.

Surfing the Feminist Wave

By: Three YWCA Young Women Champions young women who recently attended the second Asia and Pacific Feminist Forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand; Sushila, Mameaw and Divya1401368407

The second day of APFF 2014 started with a plenary where feminists from 4 countries came together Helen Hakena from Papua New Guinea, Khek Chanreasmey from Combodia, Vernie Yocogan from Philippines and Khadiza Akter from  Bangladesh, they all picked up issues of oppression and how they overcame it by mobilising women locally and using creative campaigns of non violent resistance.

 Helen discussed about the women displaced due to mining and the impact it had on women and the environment. She spoke about how she mobilised women, and in spite of restrictions on making speeches they carried on with their protests by wearing black badges, organising marches and singing songs!

Khek and Vernie are housing and land rights activist, respectively. Khel mobilised 4200 families that were to be evicted, her struggle for housing rights continues till date. Her slogan on housing camping is ‘even birds need a nest’.

Khadiza, picked up the issues of the garment factory workers of Bangladesh, when she started off working as a young worker in a garment factory, she was appalled at the conditions of abuse and harassment the women worker were facing in the factory. When she started raising questions on the poor conditions In which the young women were working, she was terminated from her services, yet she persisted and managed to organise workers into unions for putting pressure on the garment companies and worked on improving the working conditions by negotiating for better wages, improving their standards of working and thereby ensuring the dignity of the workers in the industry.

Sessions attended during the day-

  • Promoting Accountability: Using International Mechanisms for the Realisation of Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, this workshop was conducted International Women’s Rights Action Watch, Asia Pacific

The workshop discussed mechanisms such as CEDAW and IECSR which can be used for holding governments accountable, how improved networking in the region and sub region are required for understanding economic rights and economic policies and identifying key violations.

  • At the workshop section on “FILM FOR CHANGE” which was organized by Insight Film and Communications TG, we learned about how to use film and other media to help someone have better understanding of goals, need and impacts of our network program/projects.

The advantage of using film and social media is to reach people, to raise their awareness, to record action and digital life studies/oral histories etc.

By sharing documentary films on the internet, many people can have access especially potential/contemporary funders.

  • Multi generation feminist dialogue on the contextual challenges of women’s movement in asia pacific

This workshop we attended  opened dialogues with multiple generations of feminists to talk about  knowledge building and activities within the movement and identify some of our best practices that allowed to build alliances to across generation and bridge the gaps.

  • Forum theatre for advancing women’s human rights

The workshop demonstrated the powers of theater as a way for people and communities to share their experiences, generate conversation, and enable new insights to emerge. The theatre was to break down isolation and building hope. By working through theatre, both performers and spectators can engage difficult questions in a safe space. It is also an excellent tool for education and awareness rising. Lastly, these insights can be used to advocate for policy and legislative changes.

It provided us an opportunity to discuss analyze and try to find out practical solution to problems by engaging spectators. Forum theatre presents an anti model and asked the spectators to respond about the decision made on stage and motivate them to change it . This provides a safe space for the performers and spectators to engage in a dialogue without being defensive. Danish Sohail showed that theatre can be used across international boundaries. He also said that language is not necessary because the face and body can speak across cultures. Danish gave an example from Pakistan where if women is raped, she must find four wise muslim men to speak for her innocence.

‘Taking APFF Home’-some key learnings and observations-

  • Major discussion around the conference were around the question of growing fundamentalism in the region and how it manifests itself in different forms in different countries-in some countries right wing governments are coming to power other enforcing Sharia law and still other by passing regressive legislation such as the ‘Anti- Inter Faith Marriage Act’.
  • With financial aid towards women’s empowerment programmes going to private players, and very limited access towards strengthening of the movement, the women’s movement regionally needs to look at other (non-financial) resources for movement building, like, strong volunteer base,  skills, visibility(social media) and possibly its strongest asset a strong network and community leadership
  • Another important learning at this advocacy platform came from our fellow, young women’s champion Yadanar, who along with other delegates from Myanmar rallied to create awareness about the issue of inter-faith marriages in the country and distributed a statement and thereby built solidarity among other activists in the conference. We learnt a lot about effective advocacy from this experience.